Do you like to gamble? If so, then you should know that the taxman beats the odds every time you do. The Internal Revenue Service and many states consider any money you win in the casino as taxable income. This applies to all types of casual gambling – from roulette and poker tournaments to slots, bingo and even fantasy football. In some cases, the casino will withhold a percentage of your winnings for taxes before it pays you at the rate of 24 percent.
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Casino Winnings Are Not Tax-Free
Casino winnings count as gambling income and gambling income is always taxed at the federal level. That includes cash from slot machines, poker tournaments, baccarat, roulette, keno, bingo, raffles, lotteries and horse racing. If you win a non-cash prize like a car or a vacation, you pay taxes on the fair market value of the item you win.
By law, you must report all your winnings on your federal income tax return – and all means all. Whether you win five bucks on the slots or five million on the poker tables, you are technically required to report it. Job income plus gambling income plus other income equals the total income on your tax return. Subtract the deductions, and you'll pay taxes on the resulting figure at your standard income tax rate.
How Much You Win Matters
While you're required to report every last dollar of winnings, the casino will only get involved when your winnings hit certain thresholds for income reporting:
- $5,000 (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament, sweepstakes, jai alai, lotteries and wagering pools.
- $1,500 (reduced by the wager) in keno winnings.
- $1,200 (not reduced by the wager) from slot machines or bingo
- $600 (reduced by the wager at the casino's discretion) for all other types of winnings but only if the payout is at least 300 times your wager.
Win at or above these amounts, and the casino will send you IRS Form W2-G to report the full amount won and the amount of tax withholding if any. You will need this form to prepare your tax return.
Understand that you must report all gambling winnings to the IRS, not just those listed above. It just means that you don't have to fill out Form W2-G for other winnings. Income from table games, such as craps, roulette, blackjack and baccarat, do not require a WG-2, for example, regardless of the amount won. It's not clear why the IRS has differentiated it this way, but those are the rules. However, you still have to report the income from these games.
What is the Federal Gambling Tax Rate?
Standard federal tax withholding applies to winnings of $5,000 or more from:
- Wagering pools (this does not include poker tournaments).
- Other gambling transactions where the winnings are at least 300 times the amount wagered.
If you win above the threshold from these types of games, the casino automatically withholds 24 percent of your winnings for the IRS before it pays you. If you cannot provide a Social Security number, the casino will make a 'backup withholding.' A backup withholding is also applied at the rate of 24 percent, only now it includes all your gambling winnings from slot machines, keno, bingo, poker tournaments and more. This money gets passed directly to the IRS and credited against your final tax bill. Before December 31, 2017, the standard withholding rate was 25 percent and the backup rate was 28 percent.
The $5,000 threshold applies to net winnings, meaning you deduct the amount of your wager or buy-in. For example, if you won $5,500 on the poker tables but had to buy in to the game for $1,000, then you would not be subject to the minimum withholding threshold.
It's important to understand that withholding is an entirely separate requirement from reporting the winning on Form WG-2. Just because your gambling winning is reported on Form WG-2 does not automatically require a withholding for federal income taxes.
Can You Deduct Gambling Losses?
If you itemize your deductions on Schedule A, then you can also deduct gambling losses but only up to the amount of the winnings shown on your tax return. So, if you won $5,000 on the blackjack table, you could only deduct $5,000 worth of losing bets, not the $6,000 you actually lost on gambling wagers during the tax year. And you cannot carry your losses from year to year.
The IRS recommends that you keep a gambling log or spreadsheet showing all your wins and losses. The log should contain the date of the gambling activity, type of activity, name and address of the casino, amount of winnings and losses, and the names of other people there with you as part of the wagering pool. Be sure to keep all tickets, receipts and statements if you're going to claim gambling losses as the IRS may call for evidence in support of your claim.
What About State Withholding Tax on Gambling Winnings?
There are good states for gamblers and bad states for gamblers. If you're going to 'lose the shirt off your back,' you might as well do it in a 'good' gambling state like Nevada, which has no state tax on gambling winnings. The 'bad' states tax your gambling winnings either as a flat percentage of the amount won or by ramping up the percentage owed depending on how much you won.
Each state has different rules. In Maryland, for example, you must report winnings between $500 and $5,000 within 60 days and pay state income taxes within that time frame; you report winnings under $500 on your annual state tax return and winnings over $5,000 are subject to withholding by the casino due to state taxes. Personal tax rates begin at 2 percent and increase to a maximum of 5.75 percent in 2018. In Iowa, there's an automatic 5 percent withholding for state income tax purposes whenever federal taxes are withheld.
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State taxes are due in the state you won the income and different rules may apply to players from out of state. The casino should be clued in on the state's withholding laws. Speak to them if you're not clear why the payout is less than you expect.
How to Report Taxes on Casino Winnings
You should receive all of your W2-Gs by January 31 and you'll need these forms to complete your federal and state tax returns. Boxes 1, 4 and 15 are the most important as these show your taxable gambling winnings, federal income taxes withheld and state income taxes withheld, respectively.
You must report the amount specified in Box 1, as well as other gambling income not reported on a W2-G, on the 'other income' line of your IRS Form 1040. This form is being replaced with a simpler form for the 2019 tax season but the reporting requirement remains the same. If your winnings are subject to withholding, you should report the amount in the 'payment' section of your return.
Different rules apply to professional gamblers who gamble full time to earn a livelihood. As a pro gambler, your winnings will be subject to self-employment tax after offsetting gambling losses and after other allowable expenses.
- Factoid: Twenty-five years ago 2 states had legalized gambling and 48 did not. Now 48 do and only 2 do not (Hawaii and Utah.)
- Factoid: Nevada gambling revenue was $1 billion in 1975 ..$10 billion in 2004 and is projected to be $15 billion in 2009.
'Las Vegas was built for people who are really bad at math..' ..Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller, now at the Rio!)
'There are two times in a man's life when he should not speculate: when he can't afford it and when he can.' ..Samuel Clemens, also known as 'Mark Twain' (1835-1910)
In the last decade, entertainment, shopping and fine dining have replaced gambling as the top attraction for visitors to Las Vegas. Many hotels get more than half of their revenue from non-gambling sources.
Although tourists no longer list gambling as the primary reason for their visit, almost all are willing to risk an average of $500 each trying to hit that elusive jackpot.
Nationwide, casino gambling is a $50 billion business. And 20 percent of that amount comes from just one state ..Nevada. One third of all Nevada general tax revenue comes from state gambling taxes.
The state of Nevada and casinos like to call it “gaming” since ”gambling” has such an negative ring to it. We agree. “Gaming” is a better word for the games of chance legally offered in Las Vegas. Games are played for entertainment. And this is how you should treat the money you risk in Las Vegas in hopes of hitting “The Big One.” Play for fun and the “possibility” that you might win. NEVER take Las Vegas gambling seriously.Gambling laws in Nevada
Las Vegas gambling was legalized in 1931. The Nevada Gaming Commission and Control Board develops and administers all gaming regulations. Their website can make interesting reading. Casinos with more than 15 slot machines pay an annual tax of $250 on each one. There is also an additional monthly tax of up to 6.75% on gross gaming revenue ..a percentage that is the lowest in the U.S.
Anyone working as a gaming employee must be registered with the state and have a valid gaming work permit. This includes all casino workers except bartenders and cocktail waitresses.
You must be 21 to enter a casino, gamble ..or purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. If you look young carry a state-issued ID with photograph such as a driver’s license. Children are permitted in the casino public walkways but are not allowed to be near slot machines or gaming tables. You are allowed to carry open alcoholic beverage containers on the street, but not in a vehicle.Taxes on gambling winnings
There are some things you should know if you are lucky enough to win. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires all casinos in certain instances to withhold federal taxes if you win over a certain amount. The percentage withheld ranges between 25 and 30 percent depending on how you won. Here is how it works.
Do Casinos Report Blackjack Winnings
If you had gambling winnings, the casino is required by the IRS Information Reporting rules to withhold 28% as income tax if you do not provide a documented TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number, that is, your Social Security Number.) We have heard of cases where it is withheld no matter what. The withholding tax is 30% if a foreign gambler. The tax rate is 25 percent if the amount is over $5,000 (except for non-resident aliens.)
When your winnings exceed a specified threshold and/or tax is withheld, the casino will give you an IRS Form W-2G showing the amount you won and the amount of tax withheld. Report (and take credit for the tax you paid) on your IRS Form 1040 tax return at the end of the year. (Only use Form 1040 if you had gambling winnings; you cannot use any other form.)
Generally, gambling winnings are reportable to the IRS if the amount paid is (a) $600 or more and (b) at least 300 times the amount of the wager. This requirement primarily applies to lotteries, sweepstakes and other big winnings from small bets. It does not apply to winnings from bingo, keno, and slot machines.
Casinos report gambling winnings for these games to the IRS when a player wins $1,200 or more from a bingo game or slot machine or if the proceeds are $1,500 or more from a keno game. When you exceed these amounts, the casino may withhold taxes and will provide you with IRS Form W-2G. They keep the original and give you two copies of the form. (If state income tax withholding is required on gambling winnings in your state, additional taxes may be withheld.)
The rules are different for table games (such as blackjack, baccarat, craps, roulette or other spinning wheel games.) Since Nevada casinos do not know the amount you started with, they are not able to determine how much you won (..your taxable gain.) As a result, federal law provides that there is no withholding or even reporting of table game wins to the IRS. It therefore follows that table game winners probably do not report their gambling profits to the IRS.
You not only pay taxes on gambling profits, but you can also claim gambling losses as an itemized deduction as well. But you must keep some kind of documentation (such as a diary or tickets) to substantiate the amount and nature of the losses. In any event, you cannot claim gambling losses that exceed your winnings.Managing your money
Greed is the downfall of most players. The odds that you will win if you play long enough is statistically wrong ..as is; having doubled your money, you next try to quadruple the winnings (and end up losing it all.) Both concepts have built a lot of nice hotel-casinos in Las Vegas.
My system for managing gambling money is simple. I budget $100 a day which, according to statistics, is about average for Las Vegas visitors. If I am on a five day vacation, I put $100 in each of five dated envelopes ..a total of $500. I ration the money throughout the day and stop when I lose my hundred and do other things. I might stop when I double my allotment. In any event at the end of the day, I either am ahead or behind. If I am ahead, I put whatever portion of the $100 I have left (hopefully it is more than $100) back in the same dated envelope and place it in the room safe that hotels provide. Tomorrow I play with the money in following day’s envelope. The most you can lose is $100 on any given day ..or $500 for your trip. I am happy if I break even ..and you should be too. Once in a while I go home with “their” money. In recent years I have done better. I will tell you how later.
The bad news: There are no casino games or bets where the house does not have a clear advantage. The odds either favor the house ..or they get a commission. And if you are not familiar with basic information about the games you play or bets you make, you are just about a guaranteed loser. In short, casino owners are in business to make a profit. They did not build all those gorgeous hotels by giving away money.
The good news: The reality is that if you are lucky you can win ..and the drinks are free. But statistically the chances are against winning. So the cardinal rule is, over the long haul, whether playing the slots, table games, betting on sports or risking money on anything; you will probably lose. But some bets are better than others.It is beyond the scope of this website to provide in depth strategy on how to gamble and win in Las Vegas. Many books have been written on the subject and - trust me - none work over the long haul ..or are illegal.
We will, however, cover the most popular games and things you should know as a beginner to have fun and minimize your loss ..and maybe make a few bucks.Let the games begin
Blackjack (21) is either dealt by hand with one or two decks. Multiple Deck 21 is dealt from a box called “the shoe.” Everyone in Blackjack plays against the dealer. Roulette consists of a spinning wheel marked with numbers 1 through 36 (18 red, 18 black) and American Roulette has a green 0 and 00 .a total of 38 possibilities. You win if your number, combination of numbers or color comes up. To play Keno, you select a minimum of 4 but no more than 10 numbers on a ticket between 1 and 80. Twenty of the 80 numbered balls are drawn and you win if all your selected numbers are chosen. Craps is a complicated dice game which we do not recommend for first-timers. There are many other table games (and variations) as well. More and more people are playing poker these days and we will also have a little to say about that later.
Do Casinos Report Blackjack Winnings Payout
By far, however, the most prevalent pastime in Las Vegas is playing the slot machines ..and video poker. We will cover the games of chance and sports betting in this chapter ..which you should play, where you should play and the odds of winning.
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